Bitter Waters: America's Forgotten Mission to the Dead Sea

Bitter Waters: America's Forgotten Mission to the Dead Sea

by David Haward Bain
     
 

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With customary depth and insight, David Bain illumines the United States’ nineteenth-century exploration of the Holy Land.
To lead the expedition, the navy tabbed William Francis Lynch, an officer eager to enter the esteemed yet dangerous field of Victorian exploration. Like many of his successful contemporaries, Lynch was well-read, and possessed an… See more details below

Overview

With customary depth and insight, David Bain illumines the United States’ nineteenth-century exploration of the Holy Land.
To lead the expedition, the navy tabbed William Francis Lynch, an officer eager to enter the esteemed yet dangerous field of Victorian exploration. Like many of his successful contemporaries, Lynch was well-read, and possessed an independent nature, but in a man who also preferred organization to chaos, and with a character that tended toward the obsessive. The expedition would force a juxtaposition of the ancient world with the modern, as the world’s newest power attempted an exhaustive scientific study of the waters of the cradle of civilization. Beyond its fascinating topic, Bitter Waters is full of broad allusions from the period that demonstrate Bain’s deep understanding of America, and serve to make the work appealing for general scholars and lay readers. Heroically engaging unfamiliar terrain, hostile Bedouins, and ancient mysteries, Lynch and his party epitomize their nation’s spirit of Manifest Destiny in the days before the Civil War.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
Wonderfully realized, Bain's account will enthrall seekers of history off the beaten path.
Roanoke (Va) Times
Admirable work. It details one of most hazardous, yet by now almost forgotten, attempts to roll back the veil of mystery and legend and reveal scientific truths. It's a tale that deserves to be told, as an example of indomitable courage and plucky resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Read it and cheer.
Kirkus Reviews

An intriguing, thorough study of a little-known scientific expedition to the Dead Sea by a mid-19th-century U.S. Navy lieutenant.

Bain (Literature/Middlebury Coll.; The Old Iron Road: An Epic of Rails, Roads, and the Urge to Go West, 2004, etc.) unearths the facts of this 1848 expedition to the Holy Land, made big news at the time before being eclipsed by buzz of the Gold Rush. Only a handful of Westerners had actually explored the Dead Sea region—most to unfortunate outcomes—before Lt. William Francis Lynch set off. Lynch, a seasoned sea salt from Virginia, was steeped in bestselling travel memoirs of the Levantine regions by John Lloyd Stephens and Edward Robinson, and proposed to the Secretary of the Navy an expedition to the Dead Sea. The purpose was to take its measurements and thereby "advance the cause of science and gratify the whole Christian world." Added to the Dead Sea's elusiveness was its grim biblical associations as the place that had swallowed up in sulphur and smoke the five cities of the Vale of Siddim smote by Jehovah—namely Admah, Zeboiim, Zoar, Sodom and Gomorrah. ("Lot's wife looked back as they fled to Zoar and became a pillar of salt.") Vastly salty, prohibiting anything from growing in it, the sea marked the lowest point on earth, without an outlet but fed by the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee. Down the river careened the small expedition in two lifeboats, including Lynch, draftsman John B. Dale, several "young, muscular, native-born Americans" and invaluable Arab helpers; they passed ruins of Crusader fortresses and Bedouin villages, and were occasionally accosted by pilgrims. Bain amply extracts from Lynch's journal, depicting this mysterious, desolate, intensely moving place. Also included are Dale's drawings, which hold an eerie, fanciful charm.

Like the expedition itself, a work of stringent epistemological curiosity and research.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590203521
Publisher:
The Overlook Press
Publication date:
08/18/2011
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.32(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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